It's now February - the perfect time to take stock of where you are and where you are going.

It's likely that many of you sat down back in December and wrote out your goals for 2011 - and no, this is not another column about goal setting. It's about being brutally honest with yourself about your future.

But back to goals for a moment. For most of you, goal setting consisted of identifying some income-based goal such as, "I will generate $200,000 in commissions in 2011" or some amorphous goal such as, "I will provide better customer service."

In creating your goals you may have even gone so far as to write out a plan of action, which is somewhat commendable.

So, six weeks or so into 2011, here is the million dollar question: What did you do differently during those first six weeks than you did in 2010 to get you where you want to go?

This is the moment of truth. For most of you the answer will be that you have done nothing differently. In fact, most of you will have done nothing at all to begin achieving your goal.

Some of you are now feeling quite indignant because you actually made more calls in January than you made in the last six months of 2010 combined. While that's laudable, it leads to another important question: In what way are your calls this year different than the calls you made last year or the five years before that?

If what you are doing today is essentially what you have done over the past few years, not only will you probably miss your goal targets, but your days in the group benefits business will be numbered.

Every month, I hear from group health agents who have lost long-term clients to other agents via an Agent of Record letter. These agents are completely befuddled by the loss because they believed that they were delivering excellent service and had no indication that their clients were dissatisfied. The truth is, in all likelihood those clients were not dissatisfied until another agent showed up with solutions to issues that went beyond group major medical.

Nigel Alston wrote an opinion piece in my Sunday paper this week that really caught my attention.

He opened with this quote from Edith Lovejoy Pierce: "We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."

Before looking at the first six weeks of 2011 and taking stock of where you are today, take a moment and think about Pierce's words.

As a benefit professional you have never lived through a time that afforded you so much opportunity.

While many agents are feeling as though they have been attacked, others are writing more business than ever before.

While some agents are worried about commission reductions on group major medical, others are generating more per-group revenue than ever.

While some agents are looking to sell their book of business because they fear the future, others are seeking to buy the business of as many agents as possible because they see the opportunity that will be created by all of the change in the market.

While some agents are worried about commission transparency, others are already using transparency as a way to build stronger customer relationships.

As you journey through 2011 it is important to recognize that you have an opportunity to write an entirely new story for yourself. You have the opportunity to recreate your business model - and there has never been a better time to do so.

To write a new success story for yourself, follow these four steps to success.


Step 1: Find the freedom to create a new model

When most people think about making a major change in their business model (or anything else for that matter) their first instinct is to look for reasons why they cannot afford to implement any major changes.

Instead, I suggest that you first look for the reasons why you really can afford to create a new model.

As group insurance agents, many of you have a steady stream of income that will continue for some amount of time even if you do absolutely nothing at all. Knowing that your income will remain level allows you to take some time and experiment with different approaches to your prospects.

Even if you are working for an agency with a production requirement, you still have a certain amount of time until your manager will begin to get worried. While your income is stable you have the freedom to recreate your business.


Step 2: Create a vision of the perfect business

If you could design the perfect business for yourself, what would that business look like?

One of my coaching clients decided that in a perfect world, 50% of his income would be derived from products that are not as service-intensive as major medical. After further reflection he chose voluntary products and group disability income as his perfect products to sell. These products would allow him to build on his level commission-based income without the need to annually shop benefits. It would also allow him a back door to group major medical insurance.

Another coaching client of mine wanted to shift his practice to executive benefits because he thought that it would be very rewarding to work closely with key executives as opposed to HR staff and rank-and-file employees.


Step 3: Create a marketing plan

In past columns, I've addressed at great length the mechanics of creating a marketing plan, so this will not be an exhaustive treatise on the subject.

What is important to understand is that you must first identify the various outcomes that you can deliver to a client. Then identify the various marketing tools that you want to use to attract prospective clients to you. And finally, you must identify how you will deploy these various marketing tools.


Step 4: Implement your marketing plan

The implementation phase is the critical element in your marketing plan. Implementation means scheduling the activities into your calendar and making that time inviolate.

If there is one huge stumbling block to success, it is the failure to make marketing time inviolate. You cannot allow anything to interfere with your marketing time or you will soon find yourself doing little to no marketing at all. Time is the one thing that we all have a limited amount of, so it is important to use it correctly.

If you use one hour of marketing time to solve a client problem you will never get that hour back. And it is highly unlikely that you will take an hour away from something else to catch up on your marketing.

I want you to reread Pierce's quote above. Then resolve to treat February as if you are writing a new book called Opportunity and its pages are still blank. Don't look back on what your business has looked like, but rather, look forward to what you want it to look like - and begin writing your story.

As a Registered Health Underwriter and a Registered Employee Benefits Consultant, Schlesinger understands what it takes for benefit professionals to grow their businesses. He is the founder of the Objection Free Selling Academy and serves as president of NAHU for 2011-2012.

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